Discuss the view that Russia had never been stronger than on the eve of the Great War
IB History – HL
Discuss the view that Russia had never been stronger
than on the eve of the Great War
In the years leading up to 1914, war loomed over Europe. The Great Alliances were being tested as tension rose throughout the continent, and Russia found herself allied with France and the powerful Britain. When what would come to be known as the Great War hung over the nation, how strong was Russia? Was she the shadow of former greatness or the equal past power? In order to discuss this idea, one must consider her armed forces, science and technology, the arts in Russia at the time, and social and economical structures.
Firstly, when considering the armed forces, one must look at the military. The military reforms had not been practised by 1914, and as such, it was not quite up to date. There were plans to update the artillery but these were only set in motion in 1913 after some years of planning. Consequently, Russia entered the war with significantly less artillery support than her opponents. The Russian military continued to be weak due to the lack of their gunmen’s capacity, especially in her gun walls. Her infantry was also proved weak in practice as they only carried small stocks of ammo with them and at the front line. In the new age of machine guns and trench warfare, the Russian army still used the 0.299 inch rifle that had been introduced in 1891, and many of the older infantry officers still relied on the old bayonet charge, even though that tactic had been discredited. This is not to say that the army contained of no machine gunmen, but it was a very small amount, despite the loss in the Russo-Japanese war. Furthermore, when juxtaposed with most of the generals from her allies and enemies, the Russian generals knew very little about the construction of trenches or advanced strategies of warfare. Additionally, Russia was still very backward in its treatment of ordinary infantry soldiers, treating them like sheep and giving them limited rights. The infantrymen could not, for example, use first or second class on railways, only third. The soldiers could not refuse illegal orders by their superiors, only fed on basic diets, had unhygienic living conditions, and were poorly equipped. Overall, the Russia military was still in a backward state, weak, and poorly equipped for the Great War.
In stark contrast, the Russian Navy was undergoing a colossal long term plan to make Russian into the world’s third largest naval power; however this was not to be completed by 1931. Russia was far ahead of rival powers in its naval developments. She was able to successfully announce the first mine laying submarine and was able to help the British Navy in 1914. And also in the Baltic, Russia was ahead of other countries. They had radio direction stations on both sides of the Gulf of Finland, allowing the Navy to locate any ships which broke radio silence. Russia’s pride destroyer, the Novik, was the most developed warship in her fleet and was more advanced than any other. And also, a fifth of the officer cores were Baltic Germans, greatly adding to the power of the navy. As is clearly described above, Russia had in fact never been stronger in her navy, and was on her way to being considered a large naval power.
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The science and technological advancements made by Russia up to the 1914 War are also important when considering the view in the title. Russia science was even stronger than it had been in the past ‘glory years’. Markov achieved great recognition for publishing a number of theories in probability, Bernstein famously arrived at his theory of function, and Menchikov’s study of infection and immunization was renown around Europe. Pavlov won the Nobel Prize for his work on behavioural psychology and digestive enzymes, and Menchurin’s study of genetics led to continental recognition for his work including the creation of a new hybrid of fruit tress. Russia became the leading country in many areas of science and the petroleum industry. However, many projects were often abandoned due to lack of funding from them government, who continued to be obstructive in refusing patents to protect the work of inventors. Russia was also a leading power in its work on hydrodinamics, and the workds of Krylov laid the path for the basic principals of modern thinking. As a result of these revolutionary ideas, there was a call for all of Russia’s ships to modify their hulls which was answered to some extent by the Tsar. Russias’s science also led to technological advances in other areas such as Papev’s radio research, the development of electric lamps, which Russia became a lead in, and the development of the use of oil for ships. Furthermore, Russia was a leader in many areas of aviation, such as lift, wing, and propeller shape. Tsilokovsky was a front man behind the research of large rockets, publishing books in 1903 and forecasted the multistage rockets and the arrival of the space station. Sikorsky became renowned for his development of the civil aircraft. Russia was able to produce a four engine, 400 horsepower plane capable of carrying up to 16 passengers, an amazing achievement for its time. And also, the Russia’s were ahead in developing the Northern Sea Rout, and they completed this in 1915 when the first crossing was made. It is safe to declare that the Russia science had never been stronger than at this period.
The Arts and Literature of a nation is a good sign and an important one when considering how advance a country is or was. It is difficult to see that Russia was stronger in 1914 in literature than in the 19th century. Chekov wrote his finest work, Cherry Orchard, which became a popular play sponsored by the Moscow Art Theatre. Writers about the ‘working man’ became popular. Gorki was well known outside of Russia, especially for his play Lower Depths, a critique of poverty set in a boarding house occupied by degenerates and murderers made what they were as a result of poverty. Popular novels were becoming common especially amongst women, and the ballet was becoming much more an expression of Russian culture. In the 19th century, ballet had been strongly influenced by France and Italy, but by the 1890’s, Russia music was being used more often in ballet pieces. Furthermore, in 1909, the Ballets Russets became very popular abroad, combining several of Russia’s art forms. The choreography by Fokin and the music by Stravinsky were joined to great effect. Stravinsky also followed his own career becoming possibly the most important composer of the 20th century. Additionally, in 1914, St. Petersburg was an exciting city of advanced culture, known throughout Europe. In the Arts, Russia was no longer backward nor centuries behind the West, and to add, considering theatre, poetry, music, and painting, she moved ahead of most other European powers. Generally, Russia was in a better situation than it had been for many years, its ballet, music, and poetry taking massive strides, however, when considering literature, one must see that Russia had experienced a very triumphant end to the 19th Century.
To fully discuss the view posed in the title, one must also consider state of Russia’s educational system. However it is hard to generalise about the education in the country as there was still an imbalance among the developed university system, and the inadequate primary and secondary schools. By 1914, there were 120,000 schools of all types, with 8 million students of whom 7 million of which were in primary education. Also, despite the efforts of the Min. of Education, the lower classes were making headway in the gymnasium. And although by 1914, the education system in Russia had greatly advanced and progressed, it was largely the result of public energy and the actions of the Zemstva rather than the action of the government. However, the deteriorating effects of government interruption were still evident. Approved textbooks had to be used, and the smallest details of the teachers’ functioning lives were controlled. School buildings that were created with the help of Zemstva funding were declared to be state property. Jews were still not allowed total freedom, as they were subjected to a quota system. All teachers were underpaid, few had meaningful qualifications, and most had lost enthusiasm, as they were subjected to frequent transfers. The teachers were forced to follow curriculum map to the letter. The Duma began to allot more money for education, and attempted to change the system of differentiating students by class. There was also a strong development in the numbers of specialized and technical institutions, particularly visible in the growth in industrial colleges. Woman had access to agricultural and commercial instruction. Numbers of universities remained the same for many years, nine in Russia; however, the number of attendees rose quickly to 16,500 degree students. Also, the universities remained weak and professors and rectors were appointed on four year contracts by the Min. of Education. On the positive side, more courses opened to women than ever before, financed by the Zemstva. Many women chose to travel abroad to attend university, particularly Germany, but many returned. The first female professor was Russia, and she achieved this position in Stockholm. The situation for student s did not improve, and many continued to live cold and hungry lives. Most were very poor and banned from the meetings, student meetings were forbidden by the tsarist government. University inspectors became hated by everyone they met, as they held and exercised terrible power. They had the authority to expel students, forbid private lesions, and fine students for inappropriate or improper hairstyles. They were used to spy on the professor as well. One of the positive consequences of 1905 was that women gained access to previously men-only courses at university, however from 1910; there was renewed repression by Stolypin, who appointed the unjustly ruthless Kasso as the Min. of Education. Under Kasso, the police were encouraged to enter universities to stop student meetings and stop them with violent force. Despite these impediments, Russian education had flourished. The tenth Russian university had opened by 1914, and 50-60% of university students were of middle class or noble origin, the rest of the students were made up by the working class. Research in university was never stronger. Women’s courses, rising attendance numbers, and general improvements were balanced out by the existence of old problems such as a Jew quota, and repression from the government.
There were also many attempts to modernise Russia economically. Witte, who became a key player in the movements, introduced protective tariffs for Russia’s growing industries. He placed the Rouble on the Gold Standard, stabilising the currency, and encouraged foreign and domestic investors to invest their money in the new upcoming power of Russia. By 1913, one third of the capital of private companies was foreign owned, proving the impact that Witte had on the development of Russia and her links into the wider and more lucrative foreign markets. In this year, the domestic investment also increased. Most of this foreign investment was from France. One third of the foreign investment was French and mainly based in the mining and metallurgy industries, and Britain and Germany supplied one fifth each. Witte also encouraged European capitalists to subscribe to Russia bonds. However one large weakness in the Russian economy was that by 1914, the interest on the total foreign investment equalled a quarter of export expenses, creating a problem of budget balances. One of the major downfalls in assessing Russia’s economical situation was that she still largely depended on a great deal for foreign investment, goods, and inventions. Despite the fact that Russia was a leader in the field of aviation, when in 1911 factory production of aeroplanes tool momentum, the driving force included French designs that were being used by the companies. However, even by 1917, Russian aircraft was less than a tenth of the French force. Germany also had a strong hold over Russia, and outmanoeuvred Britain in this aspect. There were numerous railways linking Russia and Germany which were used frequently for the transport of grain from Russia. Furthermore, Russia wheat produced in Caucasian areas, her trade substantially with Italy to a degree where Russia depended on the income to steady her balance of trade. In the agricultural sector of the economy there were advancements never seen before in Russia. The use of modern equipment was rising rapidly by 1913, and everywhere agronomists were helping farmers of the land. However, peasants did remain an economic liability, because there were too many mouths to feed, millions of peasants consumed more than they produced throughout the country. Witte’s introduction of a policy of taxing the peasants severely along with Stolypin’s encouragement of the strong to force out the weak did much to intensify the rural discontent. Those peasants that were forced out of their marked and home moved to the factory barracks in the rapidly growing industrial cities where they became a further cause of rural unrest. On the whole, Russia’s economical situation had large flaws in it such as the dependence on foreign investors, but it was still probably stronger than it ever had been. Russia had only abolished serfdom fifty years ago.
As the eve of the Great War dawned, Russia was in the midst of becoming a power in Europe. Her armed forces were still old fashioned and in a poor state, but her navy was a leading example of potential and power. Russia was unmatched in many areas of science and was also making great technological strides, bringing herself out of the dark that she had lived in for many centuries. When considering the Arts, Russia had seen her glory years at the end of the 19th century, but was still impressive and influential. And finally the economical situation was flawed, but was also progressed and advancing out of the serfdom that it had depended on just fifty years earlier. Government wise, Russia’s improvements had several obstacles placed by it. To start with, it didn’t support half of the achievements and served as an oppressive force. On the other hand, if one compares it to the way it was before, one can conclude that indeed Russia was at its best in the Eve of the Great War.
Overall, Russia was strong in many areas, but as the Great War loomed, her instability politically and the weakness of her infantry were to play a large part in the next three years.